Parks nixes preschool changes
Rumors of scaling back a preschool program at Loyal Heights Community Center mobilized a group of concerned parents last week and prompted the Seattle Parks Department to call for a public meeting.
On Monday, the department announced it would not make any changes to the room assignment or programming of the preschool and would seek to replace teachers who are leaving at the end of the year.
It's hard to say whether parents were misinformed or the Parks Department backpedaled on some proposed changes, but the dustup started and ended in relatively short order. Early last week several parents held an emergency meeting to discuss rumors they'd heard about staff reductions and scaling back of the program. By Monday of this week, the Seattle Parks Department confirmed that nothing would change.
The trouble started when the parents learned the staff at Loyal Heights Community Center planned to move daycare classes out of one room and into another. This news, coupled with the announced departure of one preschool teacher at the end of the year, gave rise to the concern that the Seattle Parks Department, which runs the center, could scale back a popular preschool program that typically has a wait list of 40 children.
"We don't want a glorified daycare," says Penny Webb, who worries a reduction in the preschool program will remove the educational elements that make Loyal Heights such an attractive draw for many parents. Some parents, she said, will wait in line for three hours just to make sure their child can get a slot in the program.
Christopher Williams says the concern is out of proportion to what the Parks Department planned for the preschool. According to Williams, all that the department planned to do was move a class from the first floor into a room on the second floor of the building. There are no plans to reduce the preschool program, he says, or make other major changes without talking to parents first.
The center also plans to hire a new teacher, says Williams, which addresses another parental concern.
"We'll definitely have a replacement so the program can continue," he says.
Parks Department Spokesperson Dewey Potter said on Monday that the preschool program will stay the same for at least another year, and the department won't make any changes without parental and teacher input.
Loyal Heights Community Center's preschool program dates back to the early 1970s. Many people consider it one of the best preschools around.
"It certainly is of higher quality than some of the ones that are out there," says parent Jennifer Busch.
The Loyal Heights Advisory Council, a volunteer group that acts as a board of directors, oversees the preschool. The center's director, a paid Parks Department employee, runs all the programs in the center.
Money raised from the preschool goes back to the Loyal Heights Advisory Council, not into the Parks Department's budget. Webb's frustration with the Seattle Parks Department does not tarnish her devotion to the Loyal Heights Community Center. That's why she's been so vocal in trying to make sure the preschool program doesn't change.
"The community center is like the jewel," says Webb. "It's what all community centers should be."
The Ballard Community Center has before- and after-school programs, but not an equivalent preschool.
The preschool at Loyal Heights Community Center is a self-supporting program. Parents pay from $150 - $200 a month per child.
The Parks Department's Williams says plans are in the works to further expand programs at the center. These, too, would be fee-based and subject to the approval of the Loyal Heights Advisory Council.
Webb and Busch rallied other preschool parents to contact the Parks Department. Last Friday, their efforts paid off. Busch received an e-mail from Parks Superintendent Ken Bounds, assuring them that there would be a public meeting at the community center to discuss the future of the preschool program.
The Loyal Heights Advisory Council meets on Wednesday, Feb. 23. The ad-hoc meeting that Bounds proposed was not scheduled at press time. Busch suggested to Bounds that it take place before the advisory council meets in one week.